Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Food Underground

  It had all the trappings of an illiicit operation. My wife, tired of the Frankenfood options  being offered at our local chain grocery store,  and looking to supplement what we grow on our own land,had somehow made an arrangement to purchase  organic  fruits and vegetables from a local farm. Now when I say local, I mean, an hour or so down the road, in another state.  We know the owners of this farm because of a homeschooling event they host every year. Apparently, somehow, someway my  wife had let it be known to the right people that we were in the market for some (wink wink  nudge nudge) real  produce.
  My wife was sick, as well as the youngest so I was dispatched to pick up our produce at the regular rendezvous point.  My wife gave me explicit  instructions.  “Go down the highway, cross the state line, go under the overpass and there is an abandoned  building off to one side. Pull into the parking lot  in the back  between this time and this time and here’s the list.  Give them my name. They only take cash.”
  I ‘m not sure what I expected, but what I saw looked for all the world like we were  breaking the law. The farmer and his wife had pulled into the parking lot in an unmarked truck with the license plate facing away from the road. Parked at various distances away from the truck were vehicles ranging from BMW’s to minivans, all patiently waiting their turn. The farmer stood there with mirrored sunglasses on as one by one, people came up and gave  their names to his wife who would  hand them a plain  brown bag full of pre-arranged produce. The person paid her in cash, and walked back to their car, driving away.  The farmer  looked a bit  confused when I came up, although it was hard to tell through the sunglasses.  We knew each other peripherally , but he was expecting my  wife.  I  gave her name,  waved my cash , received my  bag (ok technically it was a box) and  exited the  parking lot.
  Part of me thought this was hilarious.   I mean, these are vegetables for crying out loud. It sort of reminds me of  the lady not too far from the  farm that will sell you raw milk.  She labels it ‘for Animal Consumption Only’, because if she doesn’t she has one less thing to keep her from going to jail.  That is her ‘I tried to tell them’ defense.  From what I understand, she only takes cash.  Not that  I would know because of course, raw milk in illegal in my state.
  Illegal!  Am I  the only one that thinks we live in Crazy Land in which people buying milk and vegetables have to sneak aroud like they are  buying crystal meth?  That’s almost as crazy as putting a man in a jail cell for possession of a plant. Oh wait, never mind.  Now there is that other plant that people smoke, which is  not only legal, but surprisingly profitable from what I gather.  Especially to  government thugs  who don’t  plant it,  pick it, dry  it, bundle it, or ship it, but who   tax it.   Hmmm.  One kind of milk is protected, while another is outlawed.  One type of  smokeable plant is  criminal while the other is fine.  Part of me doesn’t think this is  so hilarious anymore.
  Its obvious to me that the milk laws in my state are a result of crony capitalism in which the Big Boys have used the power of the state to  limit the choices of consumers. As far produce goes, in our experience it has been worth it to   either grow our own or buy from somebody we know. The  produce even smells different.
  What does give me hope is the  slow and steady  emergence of  what I will call the  ‘Food Underground’.  It spreads by word of mouth ( for example, while I was picking up the  veggies, my wife had  told 2 or 3  of her friends and they will now be traveling down to the  parking lot to  get their illicit avocados) and seems  a little more established each week. We  have chickens and we have traded all sorts of things for eggs.  Cash or barter,  not completely untraceable, but enough  below the radar screen that  it gets missed.  This Food Underground ( a term I intend on taking full credit for)  actually strengthens communities in that it runs off on face to face contact, and recommendations, sort of like things used to be.  Strangers are treated with a certain amount of reservation, just short of suspicion.  I think things like this, below the radar things, are  actually quite healthy. People who would  buck the corporate grocery chains to get real  veggies or people who would buck the milk mafia to get  raw milk  might be willing, if push comes to shove , to buck all kinds of other things, don’t you think?
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